COC #23: Response to Anticipated Objections Regarding Leaders’ Powers

Your ministers argue against the Catholic Church’s powers of binding and loosing by teaching that the local congregation contains some form of power (“marking”, banishing, excommunicating; any term that is used to dispel a member from fellowship). Your group’s primary scriptural support is derived from Matthew 18:15-18, which reads:

If your brother sins against you . . . tell it to the church; . . . whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:15-18).

Disciplinary performance within the Protestant Church of Christ differs from congregation to congregation, but when the rubber meets the road, disciplinary power is most often exercised by the local leadership and not the congregation—an authoritative voice within your assemblies declares disciplinary action; however, the congregation at large might be present while the leadership reports the fallen member’s sins and then delivers the man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh . . . (1 Corinthians 5:5). Is the Protestant Church of Christ not more similar to what it argues against than it can admit? In other words, if your ministers must argue against Catholic ecclesial authority (binding and loosing), then is it not awkward to denounce clerical powers of binding and loosing (using different terms) while its own disciplinary powers rest, of course, within its own local ecclesial authorities? And is it not awkward to use Matthew’s eighteenth chapter as support when it is prefaced by chapter sixteen?

As I have already shown, and will continue to establish throughout this book, it is incontestable to deny the supremacy of the Petrine Ministry over the worldwide Church, but the other Apostles were given power to bind and loose—they had a subordinate position, yet authentic power. Matthew 18:18 illustrates the Church’s exercise of its binding and loosing powers—an exercise of the local authority all bishops in communion with St. Peter, and therefore Christ, keep.  

Restoration Christians argue that “binding” and “loosing” are congregational (or individual) powers that are not related to the keys from chapter 16,19 and not powers that are granted though the apostolic hierarchy. Instead, your group’s perceived powers are democratic; if a congregation’s input does not declare judgments, it is the congregation’s elected leadership that declares judgments. Its perceived power is not acquired through the apostolic conduit; its perceived power is acquired through the congregational conduit, even if it is an “elder” or “plurality of elders” who exercise any such perceived power.  

When isolated as a solitary biblical insight, such an interpretation of Matthew 18 would be understandable and support your group’s objection (thus is the peril of proof-texting and preferring one holy passage over another), especially if a predetermined theology of either congregational or other-than-Catholic powers support the theory. Difficult passages are better understood when scriptural witnesses are consulted. In other words, an exegesis (interpretation) should not be deemed orthodox by the presence of a single verse when that single verse is at odds with neighboring verses—a more proper meaning needs to be discovered. Therefore, a harmonizing theology that unites the entirety of Scripture should be sought, including passages just two chapters earlier from the same book.

As constructed, the Protestant objection to the Catholic Church’s possession of the keys—the power of binding and loosing—dismisses the words directed towards St. Peter (cf. Matthew 16:18-19), dismisses the intended reference to the power of prime minister (cf. Isaiah 22:22), and Jesus’ specific words to the Apostles (cf. John 20:21-23). Put differently, Christians who prefer a more thorough understanding of the keys come to learn that the only examples of Jesus granting such power—the power to forgive in God’s name (and, sadly, excommunicate)—is to St. Peter and to those who were clerically subordinate to St. Peter. Nonetheless, Protestantism in general prefers the less descriptive biblical reference from Matthew 18 and omits St. Matthew’s preface of the keys from chapter 16; a preface, when denied, allows Protestants sufficient room to squeeze in the newer belief that “the church (congregation)” (cf. v. 18) has the power to bind and loose, and that “the church (leadership)” being given the authority to bind and loose is, allegedly, only a Catholic invention (Unless, of course, non-Catholic ecclesial leaders wish to banish a member from fellowship.). The interpretation would absolutely support dueling Protestant desires—to scandalize the Catholic understanding of the keys, yet imitate the Catholic Church’s power—but it would also undermine the remainder of Scripture. The only reasonable conclusion, if Matthew 18:15-18 remains within its biblical context, if the entirety of Scripture is regarded as God-breathed, is to accept that the Catholic Church’s clergy, not the congregation, nor congregationally elected and self-called leaders, nor any Protestant body, has the power to bind and loose—the power to forgive in Jesus’ name.

         19 There is no sect-wide argument/stance because, as shown throughout this chapter, the group does not recognize any concrete concept of “keys” and “binding and loosing”—such words are nebulous and unidentified. The goal of the group’s objection is not to establish orthodoxy, but to show that the Catholic Church’s emphasis on the keys, as they are intrinsically connected with whom Jesus gave them, St. Peter, is misguided; that the keys are with anyone or anything that does not resemble the Catholic paradigm: that the keys are any combination of A) St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon, B) congregational powers, or C) non-Catholic leaders’ powers.